It didn’t take long for Fiori to lead Ethan to the small group of men who had stopped by a small river to refill their water. It became clear why Mira couldn’t detect the group as 5 men sat panting while looking at a map.
“Just how far out is that bitch going to go?” one asked, taking a long drink from a water skin.
“At this rate we won’t make it back before night fall,” another said looking to the sky, the sun now well past its peak creeping ever closer to the horizon. “You are sure this kid is worth it? Gunna be a night out in the cold if we don’t hurry up.”
“Did you see all them guards she had? What’s to say there isn’t a small army out here with her?”
“Of course, she’s worth it!” the largest of them snapped, “you saw all that fancy gear she was wearing? I bet just that brats knickers are worth more than you lot. Sides’ we watched her leave those rust buckets back in the city, even if they were out here with her they’re at best c-ranks, isn’t no way the kids parents got enough to outfit her with a platoon of guards.”
“I wouldn’t say that boss,” the man with the map piped up, “got to remember who runs this territory, that noble family isn’t anything to mess with. Dragon slayers and all.”
The other four laughed as the large man slapped the back of his head, “you don’t actually buy that do you? Dragon slayers ain’t nothing but myths and legends. Just some nobles trying to keep the people in check, sides’ even if’n it was true and she happen’ta be one of them Laparys, then her folks should have a dragon’s hoard to pay with.” He laughed as the trees rustled beside him, another man coming from the bushes.
“She stopped bout 10 minutes that aways,” he gestured over his shoulder with a thumb, “just standing there, think she might finally be tiring out.”
“Bout damn time,” the larger man said, clapping his hands, “if kenith is so damn worried bout sleeping in the cold he can have first go. To bad she didn’t bring that maid out here with her…”
“I’ve heard enough.” Ethan growled as he stood from his position, his blood boiling as he clutched the pommel of his sword.
“Just wh…” the man with the map never finished his sentence as Ethan’s sword flashed from its sheath.
The sound exploded through the trees as the man’s head suddenly snapped back, rolling to the side leaving his body standing there, a dent carved in the tree behind it as it slumped forward.
“Filthy animals.” He hissed, turning to the remaining 4… “shit, Fiori.”
“On it.” the disembodied voice called from the woods, a nearby bush rustling as Fiori ran after the fleeing scout.
“Now just who’n the hell you think you are?” the large man bellowed, reaching for the cleaver on his hip.
“Wind cutter.” Ethan’s voice was no more than a whisper as his sword flicked forward.
The “battle”, if it could be called that, took mere moments, as such was the power disparity of a B-rank adventurer and a common thug. Ethan wasn’t even a particularly powerful mage all things considered but compared to these men who couldn’t even sense mana he might as well had been a dragon himself as he carved deep grooves in the trees around them… though them.
“You ok, their big guy?” Fiori asked, appearing from behind a tree. “Kind of overkill to go all out against them you know…”
“The last one?” He cut her off as he sheathed his sword.
She shook her head as she let out an exasperated sigh, “yea got him just over their hiding in a tree, white as a ghost. Poor guy pissed himself when you lopped his buddies head off. Made it quick on him you know, humane like.” She nudged what was left of the big guy’s torso.
“Like I care abou…” He snapped but stopped when he saw her cold gray eyes looking at him.
“You start talking like that Ethan and you’ll be no better than them.” She said coldly, “they were people. Depraved, sick, people.”
He took a deep breath finally looking around at the carnage he caused, “its…”
“I know, it's easy to forget sometimes.” She said stretching, “let's head back, kind of worried about the girl now. If she’s still just standing there we might have to break orders and carry her back, they were right about one thing it is getting late.”
Mira sat and watched the strange girl just stare at the blood smear for a long time before she finally took a deep breath.
“Ok.” The girl's childish voice called out as she pulled the map out again. “I can… I can do this. Just a few more to go.” She seemed to decide on a direction, storing her map and walking into the trees. “No, I don’t need you to drive. Yes, I am sure… no I do not want to talk about it… you can't eat it! Hecatolite it is fine!”
Mira paused; she had been following the girl for hours yet that was the first time she had said a name… maybe she really is crazy. Mira thought as she tailed the girl. She sent out a pulse of mana to be sure nothing had changed in the area and let Ethan know she had moved, only for the girl to stop this time.
“m..maybe you should drive.” She sighed pulling a small bag from her waist. She opened the top and looked into it for a long moment before saying, “I have enough herbs, and with the horned bunny I should be able to make it to E-rank easy enough… Did you not read the manual? Whatever, I’ll explain it later, for now do you want to hunt or not?” she asked, pulling her sword from her waist and carefully placing it into the bag.
“Well that explains that” Mira whispered inspecting the bag.
“Bag of storage; holds 150lbs of any non-living matter.”
That’s an old kind of storage. Mira thought looking at the bag, they used to be the most popular items for any traveler until storage rings became a thing. The problem with the bag was they were typically kind of small and easily stolen. Where the bag would only hold what you could fit in the opening over a storage ring would stow anything you touched if it would fit in the pocket dimension. Wait she was blinking those herbs away… why would she have a storage bag and a spatial ring?
She watched as the girl dug her arm into the bag, “it’s a mess in here! How do you find anything?” She growled before pulling her arm out, a long metal cane in her gauntleted hand. Instantly the air changed as a shiver ran through Mira whose eyes were fixed on the dull stone like cane.
Is that… mage bane? She thought, feeling the newly formed spot in her detection as the girl held it. There's no way, she pulled it from a magic bag it can’t be.
“Well, that’s not what I was looking for. Of course, I’m going to leave it out. I can't push it back in like you can!” She rammed the cane into the soft dirt beside her, “well sorry for our dainty little arms, you know you can work out too when you drive… I think I got one.” She strained as she pulled, stumbling slightly when a metal band popped free of the bag. “You only need two right now, right?”
“Just, what in the hells is she doing?” Mira whispered creeping slightly closer to the girl as she pulled another strange metal band from the bag.
She watched as the girl carefully put her hand through the band, pulling it up to the strange open pattern in the sleeve of her robe before twisting it.
Holy shit it is mage bane! Mira thought as the effect was instant, one moment she could feel the girl’s mana the next she was gone, well there was the slight wince as the mana draining metal touched the girls exposed skin. Why, though? Why would someone willingly put their weapon away before sealing their magic like that, just what was this strange girl doing?
Mira creeped closer as the girl began fitting the second band on her other arm, growing more confident that the girl had no way of detecting her.
“Ok you ready?” the girl asked, nodding to herself as she closed her eyes. She took a deep breath as she leaned forward. She kept leaning… she fell.
It happened in near slow motion as Mira could clearly make out her face, the girl’s eyes had snapped open just as she lost balance. She had reached out with her right hand attempting to catch the cane that was in the dirt beside her. Mira was sure she had caught it, but her hand slid off the handle causing her to faceplant into the ground.
“You did that on purpose!” The girl growled as she slowly stood up, a trickle of blood running from her nose as she got to her feet.
The color of her armor seemed to fade as the bands on her arms began to glow, she muttered a handful of swears as she stretched. By the time she finished Mira had no doubt, though it had happened right before her eyes… This was a different girl. Everything about her had changed, not just her clothes changing from the deep night like black to a bleached white, but the way she stood, the sound of her voice, even the look in her eyes.
Where a moment ago a wide eyed meek looking girl stood, a girl who looked uncertain about even being in the woods. Now stood a… creature. Her sharp black eyes scanning the tree line as black pulsing veins started to creep up her neck.
Mira was sure she was about to be spotted as the girl grabbed the cane in her left hand and ripped it from the ground.
“Now, are you going to hang around while I hunt?” She asked, tilting her head up and sniffing the air. “What are you in the mood for? Deer, rabbit, maybe a giant lizard… ok fine I won’t go after the basketcase lizard, but you know I bet they are really good…” with that the girl snapped her head to the left away from where Mira hid, “hmm smells like blood… nope… that’s piss? Eww, no thank you I’ll go this way.”
With that the girl broke into a sprint as she ran away from the apparently offensive smell, Mira panicked and began chasing her. With no choice but to keep the girl in sight while she wore those strange glowing bands.